Diane Falanga's 'P.S. I Hate It Here!' Helps Homesick Kids Adjust to Camp
Diane Falanga's new book, "P.S. I Hate It Here!" is a compilation of 150 hilarious letters written by kids at summer camp. ParentDish recently chatted with Falanga about finding humor in homesickness, and here's what she had to say:
ParentDish: Why did you decide to do this book?
Diane Falanga: My daughter, Bianca, begged and pleaded to go to summer camp when she was 8. We all thought she was too young, but she presented such a convincing argument that we relented, and off she went. Then the letters started to arrive. She wrote that she was homesick and had made a terrible mistake, and said the counselors had made her "scraper, sweeper and maid." I couldn't help but think her letters were hilarious, and since we hadn't gotten a call from the camp, I knew she was OK. So I called my sister and friends to read the letters to them, since I thought they were so funny, and the reaction I got was "If you think that's funny, wait 'til you hear what I got from my child." Everyone wanted to talk about their hilarious camp letters -- and that's when I realized I may be on to something.
PD: Did you write the book for parents or kids?
DF: I was thinking it was really a parents' book, something we would find so funny, but kids wouldn't. But I was a hundred percent wrong. Parents love it because the letters are inadvertently hilarious, but the kids are finding it to be really funny. And parents now tell me they're buying the book to give to their kids before they go to camp, and it's helping them tremendously.
DF: The mother of one of the boys in the homesick chapter told me her son loved the book because he read the letters and realized he wasn't alone. I really think finding the ability to laugh at yourself at a young age is invaluable, as is being able to get your feelings down on paper. We, as parents, are left at home to kind of quake when we read our kids' letters -- but the kids have gotten their therapy, they've written it down and moved on, and are able to just go out and kick a soccer ball after.
PD: Where did you get the letters?
DF: I contacted the American Camp Association and directors from camps across the country and asked them to post my query on their websites and in their newsletters. I told them I needed to collect 150 hilarious letters, and that it didn't matter where or when they were from. Between them and my own e-mail chain, I received close to 3,500 letters, even some that dated back to the 1940s, '50s and '60s.
PD: Do you have a favorite letter?
DF: There's a letter in the "What I Really Need" section that is just crazy that I love; it starts: "Grant has his own gun. It is a black .22 cal semi automatic rifle. I got to try it first period." And concludes: "I have decided that I don't want a ping-pong table. I really want to get a .22 cal semi automatic black rifle." I think that one is so hilarious, it's just genius. Also, some of the letters from the youngest kids are the funniest because they're so reflective on the moment, and not concerned with the words they use or what they tell their parents -- though letters from older kids asking for poker chips and strapless bras are also really funny to read.
PD: What would you tell parents who receive letters like these from their kids?
DF: First, take a deep breath. Then call your friends and read the letters to them, and laugh about them. When you share your stories, you'll understand it's a rite of passage kids go through, and you'll find that other parents will relate and will want to top yours with letters of their own.
PD: How do parents know when to "rescue" their kids from camp, and when not to?
DF: I think that every parent knows their child, and can tell if they're reading something more than just a rant. I also think camps do an excellent job of training their counselors and directors to really watch for signs in kids, and if a child is feeling so homesick that it's a problem, they're not writing a letter, they're going to a counselor.
PD: How do your kids feel about the book?
DF: They're delighted, and so proud of their mom, and I think they see now that you don't let anyone stop you when you have an idea. You figure out if there's a creative way to explore it, follow through, and find a way to make it happen, because it feels so good when it does.
PD: Do you have plans for another book?
DF: At the moment, no. I work full time as an interior designer and the founder of the Heart Homes Initiative of Designs for Dignity, which reclaims gently used furnishings for people in need in the Chicago Area. But if this book does well, I would love to do another one. People have been coming out of the woodwork now saying they have hilarious letters -- so I've started a file with a big question mark about book two.
Related: Return of the Masters: New Books From 3 Big Names in Children's Literature